A Look at Ontario's First Fall Season
By: Jeff Helsdon
Fall turkey hunting differs from spring's, and many lessons were learned the hard way last year.
Running through the woods as fast as I could, I dodged trees and yelled, trying to get the turkeys to take flight. The chase lasted 75 yards, but the agile birds easily outdistanced me and never took wing.
This chaotic chase was one of my experiences at trying to break up a flock of wild turkeys during Ontario's 2008 inaugural fall hunt. I was with veteran turkey hunter Dave Reid in Norfolk County and we were driving farm paths looking for turkeys. I saw birds, we pulled off, and both of us headed for the woods. While I was hoping Reid was having better luck at scattering the birds, he actually hadn't seen any.
In fal l turkey hunt ing, one technique is to break up a f lock, situate yourself at the break site, and then call the birds back in. One of the challenges, we found quickly, is to get a good break so the birds scatter in different directions, instead of the entire flock relocating. We set up nearby in the direction the birds were headed, but didn't hear or see one again.
On another occasion, we rounded a corner in a farm field and just about ran into a flock. Jumping out of the vehicle and charging the birds, we had turkeys flying in every direction.
Although traditional wisdom is to set up near the break site, the terrain and Reid's knowledge of the area led us to a nearby pine stand where he had a blind set up. He was confident some of the birds had flown in that direction.
Reid was right. We were situated on opposite sides of a tree, when about 20 minutes later we heard a hen answering his calls. He whispered it was coming from his direction. I was ready for either him to take a shot or the bird to come into my view. Neither happened. Reid saw the bird, but it was out of range. I never spotted it.
Although we heard a couple of birds responding, nothing had come into view and we were considering heading out when I saw a bird that came in silently about 35 yards out. As it passed behind a row of trees, I raised my gun, waiting for the bird to come out the other side. It never reappeared, and that hunt was a bust, too.
I attempted a couple of other methods of hunting fall turkeys. Initially, I received a report from a farmer that he was seeing turkeys and I was welcome to hunt them. Although I saw fairly fresh tracks when scouting before the season, I never did see a turkey there. I did find birds in another field I have permission to hunt, but never ended up with them in range.
Heading to an area where my dog had busted turkeys previously while pheasant hunting, I was hoping for a replay with the turkey season open. This didn't occur, either.
- Scouting is of even more importance than in spring.
- If you plan on patterning the birds to hunt flying off the roost, onto the roost, or en route to a feeding area, ensure that you know their route before the season opens. The fall season is shorter to start with, so there's less time to adjust tactics.
- Another challenge is, with shorter daylight hours in fall, you probably can't hunt prior to going to work, as is the case in spring.
- Look for fields with cut crops. Wheat or hay are ideal, and soybeans are even a possibility. Hunting turkeys in standing corn planted right up to the edge of the forest is just about impossible. Remember, permission is needed to hunt on private property and hunters should stay out of standing crops.
- Better to pursue turkeys you see, rather than those you think you might see.
By the Numbers
Despite initial outcry from some of the hunting community about the potential for conflict with other hunters, the first fall turkey hunt went off without a hitch. Ministry of Natural Resources Avian Biologist Patrick Hubert reports there were no issues he knew of with the fall hunt, and the enforcement section generally saw few fall turkey hunters in the field. In total, there were 4,064 fall turkey licences sold and 427 birds harvested in the 14 Wildlife Management Units (WMU) with seasons.
Although the fall harvest is lower than the approximately 20% spring rate, Hubert doesn't believe it was because of the learning curve. "It's probably a matter of more folks buying a licence in fall and not using them, guys who go to moose camp and don't get back in time to use them."
The weather could also have played a factor, he says, as a cool, wet system came through part of the province the second week of the season. "If you have a weather system come through, it can impact the hunt as far as the number of birds taken," he said.
Interest in the fall turkey season was about what Hubert expected.
"What will be interesting to see is if this increases or decreases," he said. "A number of other jurisdictions that had spring seasons at first initially had high interest in the fall season and then it declined.
"It does create another opportunity," he continued. "A few people I heard from like the fall hunt. There are probably some hunters out there who like the opportunity to harvest a turkey while deer hunting."
That's certainly worth thinking about.
The 2009 Hunt
This fall's wild turkey season is October 13 to 25. Last year's season was Ontario's first, with 14 WMUs having a season. Six new units (65, 66A, 80, 85, 87, and 91) were added for this fall.
Remember to take a blaze-orange hat or vest when fall turkey hunting, as there are other hunters in the woods. Be seen. Be safe.